Economist

A little less than a month ago, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association--the trade group representing state-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans--released a misleading study suggesting that health care reform would mean higher premiums for small businesses and individuals buying coverage on their own. The basis for the findings were calculations by the consulting firm, Oliver Wyman.

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Is Stanford's John Taylor -- who, according to this measure is the 10th most influential economist in the world -- exhibit A for the corrosion that occurs when politics meets academic economics? In a blog post last week titled "National Accounts Show Stimulus Did Not Fuel GDP Growth," Taylor writes: Along with the news that real GDP growth improved from -0.7 percent in the second quarter to 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released detailed National Income and Product Account tables...These tables make it very clear that the $787 billion stimulus packag

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More competition among insurers isn't always a good thing. (Austin Frakt, Incidental Economist) Dealing with Medicare is usually easier (or at least less difficult) than dealing with private insurers. (Joe Paduda, Managed Care Matters) The public option won't make a huge difference. (Eric Pianin, Mary Agnes Carey, Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News and Janet Adamy, Wall Street Journal) Obama's health care strategy: Brilliant! (Robert Pear and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times) Why we should eat dogs. And not the kind you get at the ballpark. (Jonathan Safran Foer, Wall Street Journal) 

I noticed over the weekend that the Economist is indignant that the West doesn't focus more on human rights atrocities in North Korea: At some point the West will need to address its shame of not facing up to the abuse sooner and more viscerally. In the meantime President Barack Obama hardly sent the right message by taking eight months to appoint his special representative for human rights in North Korea. Still, the question is what to do about the place. Regime change is out of the question.

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Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a pretty encouraging profile of Dan Tarullo, the Obama-appointed Fed governor. Take, for instance, this passage:  Inside the Fed, where Mr. Tarullo succeeded a Bush-appointed free-market economist in the banking oversight post, the transition hasn't been seamless. Some Fed officials said privately Mr. Tarullo can have an overbearing skepticism of banks and supervisors. Some Fed staffers are so wary of being second-guessed they ask him to approve even mundane bank applications. Sounds pretty good to me.

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End State

California is a mess, but I love it all the same--especially the Bay Area, where I lived for 15 years. I went to Berkeley in 1962--a refugee from Amherst College, which at that time was dominated by frat boys with high SAT scores. I didn't go to Berkeley to go to school, but to be a bus ride away from North Beach and the Jazz Workshop. In a broader sense, I went to California for the same reason that other émigrés had been going since the 1840s. I was knocking on the Golden Door. Immigrants from Europe had come to America seeking happiness and a break with their unhappy pasts.

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With a just-released Brookings report suggesting that high speed rail (HSR) could mitigate excessive congestion at airports, it would be nice to know if and where rail is a viable investment.

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Back in August I flagged an old Larry Summers lecture arguing that agencies (like the Fed) that keep an eye on bank safety and soundness shouldn't also be tasked with looking out for consumers, since the two mandates can conflict. Summers elaborated on this theme in a speech Friday at the Economist's "Buttonwood" conference: [A]ny regulatory agency that has as its primary mission the soundness and profitability of the banking system or the financial system cannot be relied on to pursue objectives that are potentially inconsistent with that overall mandate with sufficient vigor.

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Worth Reading

How states and local governments differ in choosing sources of tax revenue. Some possible negative consequences of zero interest rates. Arkansas has the highest rate of serial marriage. A female economist's view of Elinor Ostrom's Nobel. Non-human capacity utilization has risen for three straight months. On the need for more Canadian econobloggers.

I enjoyed the original Freakonomics quite a bit. It surveyed some fun-to-read economic research that Steve Levitt had done at the University of Chicago, and while a lot of that work was employed in the service of trifling questions ("Do sumo wrestlers cheat?" "Do game-show participants discriminate?"), it was clear Levitt was a clever economist who could gin up fascinating "natural experiments" to crack open everyday mysteries. So now Levitt and his co-author Stephen Dubner have a sequel, Superfreakonomics, which includes a chapter on climate change.

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